Pa. Senate Passes Bill That Would Ban Abortion After 20 Weeks

Gov. Wolf said the bill "flies in the face" of the millions of women who "have marched all across the country ... to retain control and the freedom to make their own health care decisions."
Pro-abortion rights protesters rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, March 2, 2016.

Pro-abortion rights protesters rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, March 2, 2016.

Pennsylvania’s GOP-controlled Senate has passed a controversial bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. 

Republican lawmakers have fast-tracked Senate Bill 3, passing it this afternoon by a vote of 32-18. Just two days ago, the bill passed a Senate Committee that consisted of only one woman. Not a single public hearing has been held for the bill.

Republican Lisa Baker reportedly criticized the bill and its quick progress this afternoon. “If this bill cannot withstand an open round of debate involving the medical community… what do we really have here?” she said, according to Billy Penn.

The bill is almost indistinguishable from a contentious abortion bill that passed the House last session. In addition to forbidding abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, it would prohibit one of the most common types of abortion methods for women who are in their second trimester of pregnancy.

Gov. Tom Wolf has said that he will veto the bill, should it pass. In a statement released Monday, he said the legislation contains “severe abortion restrictions” that eliminate “a woman’s right to make choices as to her own health care.”

“Over the last two weeks, millions of women have marched all across the country to make it clear to politicians that they want to retain control and the freedom to make their own health care decisions,” the statement read. “This flies in the face of that.”

As it currently stands thanks to Roe V. Wade, abortions are banned in Pennsylvania after 24 weeks. That’s because the 1973 Supreme Court ruling made it illegal for states to prohibit abortion before fetal viability – the point at which the fetus could potentially live outside the mother’s womb.

Some of Pennsylvania’s largest doctors’ organizations have opposed the bill. Physician general Rachel Levine has said that shortening the ban to 20 weeks “punishes women whose pregnancies have complications,” as non-genetic fetal abnormalities are typically not diagnosable until about 20 weeks.

Supporters of the bill say there is evidence that the fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks, though such claims have not yet been proven.

In addition to forbidding abortions after 20 weeks, the bill would ban an abortion method referred to as “dismemberment abortion,” as fetuses are taken apart in the process. It’s the most common second-trimester abortion technique, according to Planned Parenthood. If the bill were passed, the procedure could be carried out only if the mother were at risk of death or grave injury – and doctors who violate the legislation could be subject to felony charges.

The bill now moves on to the House for a vote.

Follow @ClaireSasko on Twitter.